Title: Relived, Redeemed, Regained

Author: Lara Bee and Macx

Email: lara_bee@lycos.com and macx@nexgo.de

Authors' Website: http://home.arcor.de/macx/enterprise/enterprise.html

Date: 06/18/02

Category: Slash

Rating: NC-17

Pairing: Tucker/Reed

Series Title: Relived

Spoilers: Broken Bow, Shuttlepod One, Oasis


"All right, Trip now, spill it. What is going on here?"

"Nothing, Cap'n."

"Trip. You two have been dancing around one another since day one. He gets so formal every time you are around, I always get the impression I have to salute to him, not the other way round. And you stiffen like,—hell I don't know. But I have to know if there is any animosity between two members of my senior staff before I send them on a mission like this."

Captain Jonathan Archer shot his chief engineer a stern but also encouraging look. He and Trip Tucker had been friends for almost nine years by now and he knew the younger man a whole lot better than Trip was actually comfortable with. It helped on occasions, when Tucker was trying to remove a foot from his mouth, but sometimes it also hampered them. Like right now.

Lieutenant Reed had approached the captain and requested to take out Shuttlepod One and test the targeting scanners. He couldn't do that on board. They needed at least 20.000 kilometers of distance from the ship. Archer had agreed and assigned Tucker as well. While the two men were flying off to get the necessary distance, Jonathan planned on taking Enterprise through the asteroid field they had encountered for a mapping project.

"Believe, me Jon, there is no animosity between us," Trip reassured him.

"So, what is it then?" Trip sighed and sank down on the chair, burying his face in his hands. Archer was right. It was his goddamn right to know what was between them—if there was something.

"He has me in his hands."

"Come again?"

He sighed. "Remember the day I came on board? Just before the ceremony?"

"Yes?"

"You asked me something."

Archer frowned, then nodded. "You were running around with a grin as broad as the Grand Canyon, and I asked you if you had an interesting night. So?"

"Remember my answer?" Trip asked, resigned to his fate.

"Barely. I remember asking if there was a lucky lady running around with a similar grin."

"I lied."

"How?"

"No lady."

"Uhm?"

"A man."

//Trip entered the bar, ordered a drink and leaned against the counter, looking around aimlessly when he saw him. The man was standing at the far end of the bar, almost in the shadow, all dressed in black. He was sipping at his drink once in a while, scanning the environment, and almost melting with the background. The figure beneath the black clothing was slim, no ounce of fat, piercing eyes roaming around the room, lips that almost cried to be ravaged. Trip felt his breath quicken at the sheer sight of that man, and the image of him weaving his hands into the dark hair of that stranger while carefully pushing the head lower made his pants tighter than ever. Said head suddenly turned around, and now those piercing eyes were settled on him, a faint smile parting those gorgeous lips. Trip swallowed hard as the man slowly made his way through the crowd toward him. Trip couldn't pull his eyes from the figure, taking in the way this body moved, every single swing of slender hips, every…holy. The man had a grace that was almost cat-like, telling of many hours in the gym. Trip wondered how the body underneath the clothes really looked like.

"Hi."

Geez, what a voice. A little hoarse and husky, with a breathtaking accent dripping down his body, making some parts of his anatomy stir in anticipation

"Hi yourself. Bored?"

"Not quite. Was looking for someone."

"Found him?"

Those eyes raked over his own body, burning with an intense fire that gave Trip real problems breathing now.

"Depends." This time the voice was even deeper, accent thicker.

"On what?" Trip croaked.

"Interested?"

What a question. Interested? Hell, this guy could have taken him then and there, and he would have given him no fight at all, probably begged for more!

Their lips met in an all but shy kiss, and Trip started to shiver when a wet tongue caressed his lower lip gently, demanding entrance, which he had no problem giving. The kiss deepened, and Trip moaned. When the need for air separated them, he saw the wild fire intensify in those eyes.

"My place?" Trip asked when he had enough oxygen to speak again.

The man chuckled. "Of course."

"Call me Trip."

"Very well—Trip."

And back in his room he was finally able to feel those nimble hands on his body when the other man made quick work of his clothes, fingers dancing over every inch of exposed skin, followed by a very talented mouth, an even more talented tongue, nipping, sucking, teething. Every single sensation that reached his senses seemed to pour oil into the fire of Trip's need, whether it was the smell of the dark hair, the way the other man's skin felt under his hands, or the taste of it. And he got touched, stroked and tasted as well.

Trip gave as good as he got, weaving his hands into the dark locks and finally directing the willing head toward his hard manhood, almost sobbing when he was sucked into the hot cavern. His lover did much more than just *kissing* him senseless, showing him one or two things Trip hadn't known before, until he tentatively parted his legs and buried himself deep into Trip's body, making him scream inarticulately when his lover's thrusts, his hands and lips, finally pushed Trip over the edge. Trip returned the favor shortly after that, showing the other man that he was a quick student, and was rewarded with some hoarse moans himself, his lover burying his fingers in his back, leaving red marks behind, when he lost control. Trip thought he had never heard anything more erotic than this man's voice, rough with desire, screaming out his release. When he was tenderly kissed in the wee hours of the morning, this wonderful voice telling him goodbye, his owner disappearing to wherever, Trip felt as if he was losing a treasure he just had found. Alone. And he would never see that man again. It occurred to Trip all of a sudden that he didn't even know the name of his lover.

Five hours later, he met up with his new captain, who also was his best friend. Captain Jonathan Archer took in his wide smile, the glow in his eyes, and chuckled.

"Trip. Man, you look great, Interesting night?"

The smile widened even more. "You could say that, Jon."

"I hope that lady's running around with a similar face now?"

"Who knows?"

Archer laughed. "Well, let's get going. Admiral Forrest is planning on a little speech before we depart, and as far as I know, you haven't met the rest of the senior staff yet."

Trip sighed and followed Archer into the building. He just couldn't forget the sight of those amazing gray-blue eyes, clouding with desire, the movement of the firm muscles under the skin or the way those hands had felt on his body, rough and tender at the same time. Not to mention the voice…

Damn.

He let Archer guide him to the meeting room where the other senior officers were already assembled. He was introduced to the com officer, the helmsman, their doctor and the science officer, who happened to be a Vulcan. Surprise, surprise, he thought as he nodded at T'Pol. Jon had probably fought it hand and foot, but the Vulcan High Command had enough political power to place one of their own aboard.

And then his eyes fell on the armory and tactical officer. He looked right into those gray eyes that had haunted him ever since this morning.

Only this time they were blinking in shock.//

"He didn't even tell me his name, and I thought I would never see him again," Trip murmured.

"And?" Archer asked slowly.

"I saw him again."

Jon's eyes narrowed, then widened fractionally. "Oh no. Don't tell me…"

Trip simply nodded. "Same day, at the ceremony, I met one Lieutenant Malcolm Reed."

He rose and started to pace through the room aimlessly, running a hand through his hair in a gesture of pure despair.

"You've no idea what it did to me then. What it does to me every single minute of every single goddamn day. Just to look at him, see him every day. And he…he is…well, he is Malcolm."

Trip realized that through his whole babbling Archer had stayed silent. When he turned he realized why.

"Cap'n?" Trip asked carefully.

Archer swallowed. "These are…some news, Trip."

"What?"

"To hear that the man you call your friend for over eight years now, and someone you thought you knew, is…well…" Archer's voice tapered off.

"Interested in men? Is that a problem for you, Jon?" Trip laughed humorlessly. "Don't worry, Cap'n, you were never, you aren't now and you will never be a choice for me. I cherish our friendship too much to risk it with something like that. You're not my type, no offense. 'Sides, I do like women, too. I just prefer men sometimes."

"Men like Malcolm."

"Hell yes, men like Malcolm. Now," Trip stopped to look his friend and senior officer straight into the eyes, "is that a problem for you, Cap'n?"

Archer inhaled. "If you ask the friend, no, it's not. It's one hell of a revelation, but I'm thankful you trust me enough to tell me. I will…need a bit time to adapt to that thought, but I will. I mean, it's not that you are a different person now, you're still Trip Tucker, my friend. As for the captain, it could become a problem."

Trip smirked and sank back onto the chair. "Hey, I'm a gentleman, yet forgotten? I don't go around making passes at people. You should know me by now."

"The terms 'gentleman' and 'Trip Tucker' don't always match, Trip."

Tucker chuckled. "True, but I take my job seriously, Jon. I know the difference from private and public."

"Good. Tell me," Archer leaned forward, looking intensely at Tucker, "how do you feel for Malcolm?"

"Feel?"

"Uhm-hm, feel. You understood me."

"Feel…hm…Well, he is .. I mean, it was…Geeezus, Jon, it was the best I ever had. And now that I got to know Malcolm better…I…" Tucker sighed and stared at the table top.

"You fell for him, Trip."

His head came up again, eyes wide. "What? Jon, you can't be serious. I didn't…"

Archer smiled. "Oh yes, you did. Trip, I might not know you as well as I thought, but I recognize it when I see it. Trip, you fell for him, hard."

Trip leaned back and gazed at his best friend for a long time. Silence stretched, until Trip let out an explosive breath and slouched into the chair. "Hell…"

"That's one way of putting it. Do you want me to cancel the mission, exchange you with someone else?" Jonathan asked reasonably.

Tucker shook his head. "No, don't. You've already scheduled it. I will manage. No idea how, but I will."

"You sure?"

Trip nodded. The picture of him being with Malcolm, alone for several days in a shuttlepod, was somewhat intriguing.

"Good. I expect you both to return healthy, unharmed and alive. Understood?"

"Aye, sir."

***

//I lost nearly everybody I cared about.

It never worked out because I never could get very close to them.

You'd rather have Enterprise find the two of us dead in here?

That's exactly what I'm saying. I've invested far too much time to figure you out, Mr. Tucker. I'm not about to accept that was all for nothing.// Trip sighed at the way his thoughts were running amok, repeating some of the words Malcolm had said to him in that shuttlepod.

He had woken up in the medical bay in the middle of the night, shaking with a cold that seemed to be originating within him. His body was trembling, trying to get warm, and he was clutching the blanket to himself. The sickbay was quiet, the lights turned down, and only the area with the biobeds was illuminated enough for him to see what was around him.

He remembered how he had blown out the 'candle' at Malcolm's sad words, how he had wanted to say something then, but just couldn't. They had spent so much time alone on that damned pod, but not once had he gathered his courage, talked with the man about Jupiter station, about their one night. He had found out more about Malcolm Reed on that short, nearly fatal mission than in all the time they had been serving on Enterprise now. Aside from Malcolm's favorite food, which had been actually Hoshi's success, nothing else had slipped past the tightly controlled armor around their tactical officer.

Now—well, now he knew a lot more. He knew of Malcolm's fears and hopes, his past, his expectations of the future, but he didn't know what the other man felt for him. They had joked about comic books and classic novels, they had fought about small stuff until it had nearly come to blows, but never had they breached the most personal of questions: them.

We're so different, Trip thought. It was why they had always been at each other's throats in the shuttlepod. And before that as well. Hell, he had been going at the lieutenant while they had been installing the phase cannons, trying to provoke him, trying to see Malcolm, not the officer, and it had nearly worked. Trip had seen it in his eyes. But Malcolm had clamped down again, had pulled his armor around him once more, and had simply acknowledged that Commander Tucker had issued an order.

Reed was so practical, so formal, so detached. He didn't allow himself to be just Malcolm. It was why Trip had snarled at him like that right after they had seen the wreckage, ordered him to find a way to Echo 3. Tucker was a very emotional man, very outgoing, and it had hurt to see the lieutenant just shrink back into himself and accept their fate. It had enraged him to the point of yelling at the man. Gawd, he had lashed out and done some real damage then and there. Stress had gotten to him; stress and the fatalistic, negative way Reed had been looking at their situation.

//What's your problem with having a little hope?

What's your problem with facing the truth?//

Trip wanted to face the truth. Another truth than their death back then. The truth that he felt so much for this man, that it hurt not to touch him, not to tell him that—because he was such a damn coward. A coward who had later tried to kill himself. Damn! Malcolm had given him an opening back then, revealing his trouble with relationships, needing him to stop seeing him as the 'bloody angel of death', as he had put it.

And what had he done?

Nothing!

He looked over to the other biobed, and watched Malcolm sleep, the sharp-angled features finally relaxed. Trip smiled at the stubble on the other man's face, recalling the small scene with the shaver.

And he remembered the last time when he had seen this man that way, so relaxed and content: laying in his arms after their only night together, before they even knew who the other one was.

He wanted to see Malcolm Reed that way again.

Trip started as he realized what he was thinking, that Archer had been right. He had fallen for that man, way back on Jupiter station.

Damn.

He was released from sickbay the next morning, off duty for another forty-eight hours and under the strict orders to come back should he still not feel better in the next twenty-four.

Malcolm had had to remain a bit longer since he hadn't had his last check yet, and Trip had gone back to his quarters. Shower, shave, eat, sleep in his own bed.

Everything else had to wait till he felt human again.

***

He was working on the phase cannons again. It was a rewarding and very distracting job, one that insured he was deep inside the access shafts, fiddling with his weapons, and not among people. Especially nowhere around Commander Tucker, who he wasn't really trying to avoid. Well, maybe yes, but with their different jobs and work places, they rarely were on the bridge together.

At least that had been the theory.

"Malcolm?"

So much for that.

Reed looked up from his open panel deep inside the aft cannon shaft.

"Commander?"

Trip's brows folded into a brief scowl. "Drop the commander. I'm here all private now."

"What can I do for you then?"

Trip clenched his fist at the formal tone, frustration visible on his face. "You used to call me 'Trip' once," he said lowly.

Malcolm shot him a short glance, then continued his work. "That was in another world, another time, commander."

"We never talked about that 'other time', Malcolm."

"Because there is nothing to talk about," Malcolm stated matter-of-factly.

Dear Lord, he didn't want to talk about it. It had been bad enough already to discover that the man you had shared an incredibly hot night with had turned out to be one of your superior officers just a few hours later. He had to work with the man on a daily basis, and being stuck on a shuttlepod, apparently the only survivors of Enterprise, hadn't helped at all.

Malcolm was still drawn between horror and need whenever he thought about those days. There had been times in those final hours when he had wanted to crawl under the blanket with Trip, hold him, kiss him, but then the officer had resurfaced. He couldn't do it; ever. He was open to blackmail as it was already; Tucker knew more about him than anyone else on the ship because he had spilled his soul out in front of the man. In the time that had already passed since then, Trip hadn't acted on it, but in Malcolm's eyes it was just a matter of time.

"Nothing? You really call that nothing? Mal, I…"

"Commander, please. This is quite inappropriate," he interrupted his superior.

"To hell with inappropriate! Malcolm, when you left that morning and I realized I would never see you again, I felt so…so goddamn lonely. You never even told me your name."

Reed looked up, trying not to be tempted by the man crouching in the access shaft above him. "You never bothered to ask."

Trip blinked in surprise at the quietly uttered remark. "Maybe I should have. Mal, listen, I…"

"There is nothing to talk about, commander."

Trip inhaled deeply. "When you kissed me, Malcolm, and I simply melted into your caress is nothing? The fact that I saw stars exploding in front of my eyes when you touched me is nothing? Or the fact that I can't sleep without dreaming of you, that I can't walk these corridors without seeing you in my mind is nothing? That I have seen what nobody else saw, and that I long to see that again is nothing? Then I'm one hell of a fool because I was ready to die for nothing."

With that he got up and left.

Malcolm stared at the empty spot above him that had up until a minute ago been occupied by the blond engineer. He was dumbstruck, completely speechless, and his brain was trying to catch a coherent thought.

It failed.

When it finally did, he closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the cool metal of the walls around him.

Tucker was obsessed with having him in his bed, he thought, sighing sadly. So it had begun. Using what had occurred to get what he wanted, Tucker had made clear what he expected of him.

Malcolm crawled out of the cannon shaft and sat with his back against the access tube's wall. He stared at the wiring and pipes around him without even seeing them.

Well, if that was what Commander Charles Tucker III expected, it was what Lieutenant Malcolm Reed would give him.

***

Trip sighed and stretched his shoulders and neck to get the tension out of the hurting muscles.

"Geeez, I hate workin' in confined spaces."

"Maybe you should have thought about that before you became a Starfleet engineer?"

Malcolm's remark sounded rather ironic.

Trip shot him a half-hearted glare. The two men had been working together on one of the many notoriously hiccupping relays in the defense grid for a while now. Reed had asked for Trip's help, after spending more than enough time fiddling with it on his own. Since the relay was located inside one of the narrow crawlspaces, it meant a lot of maneuvering in tight spaces.

"When I thought about workin' in space, I had a much larger one in mind. Ouch!"

He winced as a painful cramp ran through his trapezium. Trip started when he felt hands on his shoulders all of a sudden. But when those hands started a skillful massage on his cramped muscles he sighed in relief, leaning back into the comforting touch without thinking.

"God, Malcolm, that feels real good, " Trip all but purred when the stiffness was exchanged with relaxation.

He sighed again, closing his eyes and enjoyed the little touch of those hands. When he felt Malcolm's breath at his ear he realized that something within that touch had changed, something subtle. The thumbs were no longer firmly working on his cramped muscles, they were gliding over the exposed skin of his neck, caressing instead of massaging, stroking seductively, causing a tingling sensation that went right into his groin.

"Malcolm?"

Trip turned his head in utter surprise when he realized what Reed was doing. Whatever protest he was about to utter was swallowed by two hot and wet lips pressing onto his and cutting off any remark. Malcolm's hand was still on his neck and he continued the soft stroking of the sensitive skin while his tongue was dancing over Trip's lips in a most enticing way, working itself into his willing mouth starting a sweet duel.

Trip couldn't suppress the moan that escaped his throat when the world outside ceased to exist, when all his senses calibrated themselves on the things Malcolm Reed was doing to his body.

"Gawd…Mal…"

"Your quarters; one hour," he barely registered Malcolm's hoarse whisper, trying his best to get his hormones back under control. Malcolm gave him a last short teething of an earlobe and disappeared.

Exactly one hour later the chirping sound from his door found Trip Tucker in his bathroom, hair still damp from the shower he'd taken.

"Come."

Trip entered his living space and stopped when he didn't spot anyone.

"Hello?"

"I'm here," the well-known voice answered huskily, two strong arms were wrapped around his waist and he was pulled against the hard body of Malcolm Reed.

Malcolm seemed to have no intention to make this slow as the passionate kiss on his neck told him, his hands quickly undoing the belt of his bathrobe and slipping under the fabric. Trip moaned and felt his blood rush down south when Malcolm's hands ghosted over his body, somewhat rough against sensitized skin, paying special attention to his nipples before the talented fingers closed around his growing arousal.

"Mal…"

Malcolm just whirled him around in his arms, pressing his body against Trip's. The very next second Trip found himself lying on the bed with an armful of armory officer on top of him, straddling his hips, sucking at the hollow of his neck. Trip's hips bucked involuntarily, his body seeking contact to the other one. The rough fabric of Malcolm's pants was rubbing over Trip's straining hardness, and he let his hands glide under the other man's shirt, needing to feel skin against skin. Malcolm just tossed his shirt away carelessly and returned his attention back to his former actions.

Trip closed his eyes as the hot mouth reached his hardness, lips closing around him, tongue swirling over the oversensitive tip. It was like a deja vu, like a living reminder of the only night he had once spent with Malcolm, the night he was still dreaming about. Malcolm held his hips down while he continued, one hand sliding down between Trip's legs and further. Trip gasped, feeling slightly dizzy and lightheaded, giving a sharp yelp when Malcolm's finger found the spot inside him. Malcolm's lips returned to his mouth, and Trip wove his fingers into the thick dark hair, pulling his lover close into a most fervent kiss. He felt his naked body glide along Malcolm's and a part of his mind registered that somewhere along the lines Malcolm had gotten rid of his pants.

"Take me…"

Trip blinked when his mind realized Malcolm had spoken to him, and then what he had said, that he wanted him, wanted to feel him. Trip felt the lube pressed into his hands, while Malcolm rolled on his stomach. Trip hesitated, stroking the other man's back, placing a kiss between the shoulder blades, evoking a shudder.

"No, not this way. Mal. I want to see you…"

Malcolm inhaled and turned back, snatching the lube out of Trip's hand. "Let me," he whispered hoarsely, lube coated hands gliding down Trip's body, pulling him close again and guiding him where he wanted him.

Trip repeated the kisses, sensing hands sliding over his backside, pulling, and he gave in. He felt Malcolm's hands dig into his back painfully, hips arching to meet him, and Malcolm' gave a choked hiss while increasing the intensity of the kiss. It sounded as if he was trying to stifle it.

As if he was trying…?

Trip stopped, pushing back a little to give Malcolm a closer look. Sure, his lover was panting, and he had given some moans. But it wasn't pleasure that clouded Malcolm's blue-gray eyes. It was pain.

"Ah hell," Trip breathed in shock as he pulled back, slipping out of his lover's body.

Which caused another sharp intake of breath. Malcolm just rolled from the bed and slipped into his pants, grabbing his shirt, while Trip still tried to digest what he had just witnessed. No, caused. He had hurt Malcolm.

"Mal, wait. Malcolm!"

Reed stopped dead in his tracks at he sharp tone, body stiff and rigid. He didn't look at Trip, who snatched his own pants and climbed out of the bed.

"Mal…god, I'm sorry…you should've said something, told me to wait, you…"

"No. I'm sorry, commander." The flat, British officer voice was back.

Commander?!

Trip felt a surge of anger and he placed himself between the door and the other man. "Malcolm, what crap is that? Commander? You just shared my bed…"

"It was what you wanted."

Stunned, bewildered, Tucker stared at him. Of course he had wanted Malcolm. He had wanted the handsome man in his arms, in his bed, making love to him. He wanted to hear him voice his pleasure. All he had done was make him experience pain.

But that wasn't what Reed was telling him just now.

"What I…? Malcolm, what are you talking about?" he demanded.

"You said you wanted me in your bed. I came into your bed. End of story." Reed's face was a mask of polite distance, one of a subordinate facing a commanding officer.

Trip felt like punched in the stomach. "What? Wait a minute, what are you telling me here? That we…you .. just because I said so?"

Malcolm glanced briefly at him without actually meeting his eyes. "You ordered me, sir."

Sir?

Trip stood in shocked silence. His mind was spinning over the simple words. 'You ordered me, sir'. He hadn't meant it as an order. He had thought it was sufficiently clear that their interaction on a private level had nothing to do with their ranks on duty.

"I ordered you?" he blurted. "And you followed…decided to play my personal whore? Malcolm!"

"Whores get paid."

That stabbed even deeper. Trip's soul cringed and whimpered at the emotionless words of the other man.

"Malcolm, where is the point here? I mean, yes, I want you but…there is no reason for you to…to prostitute yourself, for christssake!"

Did he really come across like that? As Commander Tucker who took what he wanted, who used his rank to get it? Who would actually…Trip winced away from the words. Malcolm would have let him take his body…oh my gawd! The man had been ready to endure this because of what? Misunderstandings?

"You could destroy my career, my life, commander," the British voice interrupted his train of thought. "You have me into your hands. I thought it…would be best to just…," he shrugged, "play along. It's not that I couldn't do it. "

"I could destroy your life?" Trip echoed, disbelief growing inside him.

"Indeed. I approached a superior, in a gay bar. Point one, career. While homosexuality is no longer a taboo topic, I doubt Starfleet would want to have their finest officers aboard the very first deep space exploration vessel coming across as…queer." A humorless smile quirked the thin lips. "You also know much of me, much more than anyone else. Point two, personal life. I gave you ample ammunition to shoot me down with what I told you about myself. No one else knows it, commander, as you are quite aware of. You have me in your hands."

Trip inhaled deeply, running a hand through his hair in frustration, but very slowly this whole mess started to make sense. A twisted, sick sense, but sense.

"Malcolm, we've been servin' together on Enterprise for over six months now. If I had wanted you that way, I could have gotten you, from day one. But I'm not some kind of cheap bastard, usin' people like that. I don't intend to destroy anythin'. You mean far too much to me. I, good lord, I would never—pull rank on anyone that way! That's worse than rape, Malcolm. And that is somethin' I couldn't do, ever. This is between Trip and Malcolm, not Commander an' Lieutenant."

He looked at the stiff figure before him, trying to gauge a reaction. So far, the officer was still holding his masks in place. Please, Malcolm, he begged silently. Understand what I'm telling you!

"Fact is, yes, I want you, Malcolm," Tucker went on. "But not just for your body. The past six months I got to know you better, and I saw a gentle man, a man who cares, a man with a sense of humor that matches my own. An' I realized I want that man, Malcolm. I want you, all of you. I want to see you laugh, an' I want to be the one who makes you laugh. I want to see that sparkle in your eyes again when you look at me, an' I want to see them light up with a warmth I know is there. I want the tender man, I want the passionate lover, I want the dangerous man. I want a partner in every sense of the word an' I want you to be that partner."

Still no reaction. Or maybe not completely. There was something in those gray eyes, something that gave Trip hope.

"That night, six months ago, when I din't even know your name, I din't realize it at first, but I fell for you. An' durin' the past six months I fell even deeper, in love with you. I love you, Malcolm Reed. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, not just a fling every now an' then. If you—if you don't want me, if you say no, I'll accept it. No repercussions, no consequences. I don't wanna lose you, but…I guess it's up to you now."

It was the most he had ever said, Trip realized. At least concerning declarations of love and his emotions.

Malcolm simply stood there, listened to his every word, without making one little sound, just clenching his fists once in a while, without looking at him. The sharp-angled features didn't give anything away. Trip thought he could see a flicker of an emotion of whatever kind appearing in his eyes now and then. When Tucker finished and stepped aside he just inhaled and rushed past him toward the door. When it swooshed open, Trip called him one last time.

"Malcolm? Will you think about it? Please?"

Malcolm stood in the doorway, one hand at the frame. He hesitated, then nodded once, before the door closed itself behind him, and Trip was alone again.

*

Malcolm could have screamed. He knew it would hurt, but he thought he could handle it, mask any sound of pain he might give as a sound of pleasure. He had been wrong. In both regards.

He had played a role for Trip, had given the best interpretation of passionate lover he was capable of. If it hadn't been for the sudden pain it would have worked. Trip had never noticed that his own arousal was halfway, at best, just a bodily reaction toward stimuli. A part of him had enjoyed it a little, had wished it to be for real, or at least pure and honest lust on both sides, like he had shared with Trip before.

But not this.

Not blackmail.

He had swallowed his pride and made his decision, had acted on his instinct and chosen. Chosen to let Trip have his way with him and hoped that one day, he would find the warmth in the other man again, a warmth he had seen and experienced once before, even if it had started as lust.

But it had hurt, more than he had imagined. Not only his body had experienced pain. The twinge in his soul, in his heart, had been even deeper, more agonizing than he had expected. Betrayed. Lonely.

Used.

If Trip had just gone on then and be done with it. But Trip had pulled back, had looked at him, had seen it. It had been too much, and all Malcolm had wanted was to get away from there. Trip hadn't let him go, had insisted on answers, and…Trip wanted him.

There it was, the warmth…

Trip loved him.

It bloomed, slowly but steadily.

Trip wanted to spend the rest of his life with him.

It felt like—home.

***

Jonathan Archer watched his best friend and chief engineer with a bemused expression. Trip had been playing with his food for a while now, unaware of the happenings around him. The mashed potatoes had served as a lake for the gravy, had then been thoroughly soaked in the brown liquid, only to be introduced to the peas and then stacked into what could be either a sculpture of modern art or a really bad imitation of a snow man—after a horrible skiing accident.

For the last three days, Archer had been aware of the morose, almost depressed state of mind his friend was in. Sure, Tucker was on duty on time, he performed his job flawlessly, he did his assigned shifts and pulled double if necessary, but it was all a fašade. Behind the mask of the dutiful commander was a hollowness that hurt Jon by just looking at it. Gone was the sparkle in the blue eyes, the ready smile, the laugh lines around the eyes and mouth. Gone was Trip Tucker.

And he wanted to know why. He could hazard a guess, especially when looking at the second man he had kept an eye on. Lieutenant Malcolm Reed seemed to make a habit out of being on duty, then going down to the armory to instruct some of the crew in the handling of the phase pistols. Afterwards he continued to beat the crap out of the dummies in the gym. Mayweather had mentioned seeing the armory officer in such a session once.

"I hope you're leaving room for dessert," Archer said casually as he cleaned the last of his dinner off the plate.

"Hm."

"Chef made pecan pie."

"Yeah. Great."

Pecan was one of Trip's favorites. He would do just about anything to get a piece of the sugary dessert.

"So, did you enjoy today's special?"

"Hm. Was okay," was the distracted answer, Trip still shoving peas and carrots around the plate.

"Chef told me it's snake. He had bought some off a guy at Jupiter station." Archer watched his friend closely. He knew how much Trip despised snake meat. The words went completely past the man.

"Was great."

"According to T'Pol, we can expect some rough weather ahead the next few days," Jonathan went on. "Snow storms, hail, blizzard, the whole lot. Guess we have to outfit Enterprise for some sledding, don't you think?"

Tucker just nodded.

Archer rolled his eyes. That about does it, he thought. "Maybe Malcolm should start handing out snow shovels," he added.

At the name 'Malcolm', Trip's head came up and his eyes refocused. "What?" he stuttered.

Bingo!

While Jonathan still had a bit of a hard time dealing with Trip's revelation from a while ago, he had come to accept that his friend was in love with his armory officer. So he was bisexual. It didn't change the fact that Trip Tucker was his best friend. And Archer would do his damnest to be the friend Trip needed. "Trip, what's wrong?" he asked as he had the attention of the commander. "And don't deny that anything's wrong. You've been playing with your food and running on automatic ever since…well, three days ago. I want to know what happened to Trip, since all I seem to get is the chief engineer at the best of times, and some absent-minded, monosyllabic dimwit the rest."

Trip blinked and opened his mouth to say something, then snapped it shut again. He sighed.

"That obvious?"

"Glaring."

"Oh."

"So?"

Tucker chewed his lower lip. "I blew it, Jon. Utterly."

Archer waited.

"I made a humongous mistake and didn't even realize it till it was way too late. Now I'm tryin' ta pick up the pieces."

"Malcolm." It wasn't a question.

"Yeah."

"Want to talk about it?"

Another sigh. "It's nothin' you really want to know, Jon," the younger man finally said softly. "You can order me, but the captain won't like it either. Let's just say I said somethin' that was grossly misinterpreted. And I din't realize it till it was too late. Now I'm sittin' in front of this huge pile of shards an' I'm hopin' I can glue it all back together again."

Blue eyes held an openly wounded expression that made Jon wince. Maybe Trip was right and he didn't want to know. It seemed to be intensely personal, but it was also something that ate away at the engineer's mind and soul.

"Any way I can help?" he offered.

"I wish I knew. I don't wanna to pull you into this, Jon. It's actually up to Malcolm to decide what happens now." Trip poked at the mess of potatoes, peas, the occasional carrot and gravy.

Jonathan leaned back and regarded his friend. Whatever had happened, Trip was leaving everything to Malcolm. So whatever had happened had left Tucker with a guilty conscience that fueled his self-destructive behavior. Looking at Reed, the same was true. Both men were in the middle of something that could destroy them both…or fuse them together.

Archer just hoped it was the latter.

*** He didn't pull his punches. Each blow was measured and applied with full force. Muscles rippled under the sweat covered skin as the slender figure kicked and punched at the hapless bag that swung suspended between ceiling and floor, the heavy coils of steel rope creaking. More blows rained down on the hard leather bag, ferocious, quick, and without mercy.

Malcolm's chest heaved with each breath as he forced his body beyond the point of pain, pushing himself past his limit once more, testing his endurance. His t-shirt was soaked in sweat already, his legs felt tired, his arms heavy, but still he went against his dummy opponent, adrenaline surging again and again, driving him on.

A last blow had the bag swinging once more. With a puff of air, the security officer staggered away, his hands blazing with pain, his legs trembling with fatigue. He was panting, drenched in sweat, his hair slick.

This had been far beyond a normal work-out. Like in the last three days, he had pushed and pushed until his body screamed and he couldn't go any further. Sinking to his knees, he stared at the wrappings around his hands, noting in dismay that he was bleeding again. He would have to take care of the cracked skin before showing up for duty once more. Thank god he had some first aid spray in his quarters. That usually sped up the healing process over night.

"The human body was not constructed for this kind of stress level, at least not over a prolonged period of time."

The calm voice made Reed look up. Phlox stood in the door to the gym, looking mildly at him, as if he was studying a lab specimen. Damn, he hadn't even heard the Denoblian approach!

Malcolm, you're losing your touch, Reed berated himself and got to his feet, legs refusing to carry his weight. He forced his knees to straighten, despite the aches and pains from everywhere.

"Doctor," Malcolm greeted the other man.

"Hm. I recommend higher amounts of ionized liquids to replace the ones you lost during your exercise, Lieutenant."

"Thank you, doctor."

"You are training quite hard."

"I am the chief of security. I have to stay in shape." It sounded almost defensive.

Reed dried the sweat that was running down his body and wrapped the towel around his neck.

"Can I help you with something?" He knew he came across as rude, but right now, he was close to the breaking point.

"Actually, I came here to ask you the very same question, Lieutenant. I've noticed your lack of nourishment lately." Phlox gave him a critical look. "I know you are prone to leaving out a meal or two when under pressure, but according to the captain, we're currently peacefully en route to an interesting nebula." The doctor met his gaze calmly. "Which is why I decided to inquire into your lack of appetite."

Malcolm sighed and rubbed his stinging left hand. "It's nothing, doctor. I was a bit.. distracted."

"This…distraction, yes?…well, this distraction has caused you to visibly lose weight, Lieutenant. You are driving your body to the limit through your work-outs, which I can't say is very healthy for a man of your slight stature. It has also proven to be contagious."

Malcolm blinked. "Pardon?"

Phlox gave him that weird little smile he always had. "I find myself confronted with another serious case of overwork, stress, weight loss and lack of sleep. Commander Tucker seems to be mirroring your…symptoms. Peculiar, hm-hm?"

"I…ah…maybe you should ask the commander then."

"Oh, I plan to do that." Phlox turned to go, then stopped. "Lieutenant Reed, I find myself in the role of a counselor here. In my long years of marriage to my wives, as well as the relationship I have with their other husbands, I have found that when it comes to love, you should accept when it is given freely to you. There is no greater gift. There is also no greater mistake than to turn it down. We all want to be appreciated for what we do in our lives, but we want to be loved for what we are." Phlox's white-blue eyes held the wavering gray gaze. "Don't make that mistake, Mr. Reed. There is nothing wrong in allowing yourself to be loved. And in allowing yourself to love. Oh, and should you require medical assistance concerning your injuries, I will, as always, be in sickbay."

Phlox nodded at the stunned and bewildered armory officer and left the gym, humming an foreign tune.

***

Malcolm sat in his quarters, staring at the soiled bandages in his hands. He had unwrapped his knuckles and found the damage worse than the last two days. He hadn't given the wounds any chance to heal and the first aid spray wouldn't really do the trick this time. Still, going to Phlox was off his to-do-list. He'd just have to live with it for now. Other, more important things were currently keeping his mind occupied.

Like what the Denoblian had told him.

'There's no greater gift.'

He smiled wryly. Was what Trip was offering him a gift or a trap? Was Tucker even capable of leading him on like this, only to use his affections, his hidden fears and insecurities against him?

No, the security officer inside him decided. Commander Charles Tucker III wore his heart on his sleeve. His emotions were just beneath the surface and when he became emotional, he told the truth. He would blow his mouth off, but he wouldn't lie while doing so. What he said would be true.

Malcolm swallowed. So Trip loved him. Truly loved him. No strings attached, no thought of blackmail, no sign of repercussions. Just plain love. Untainted. Open.

For him.

Reed closed his eyes and crumbled the bandages into a ball, ignoring the stings from the cracked skin.

Trip had fallen for him and Malcolm was hard pressed to ignore his own, softer feelings for the man. He wanted the engineer. He had dreamed of him before, he wouldn't mind sharing his bed. Without the fear of consequences. Just the two of them.

He exhaled explosively.

He had to make a decision. Turn down the open invitation, the plain offer, the need. Or accept it. Accept the love, the man, the words. The truth.

***

Malcolm Reed stood on the bridge, his full attention on his station as he keyed in commands and waited for results. He was running checks on the hull, the deflector, the weapons, the shields, the internal sensors. He did long-range scans, classified what he picked up, determining the threat factor, and he kept an eye on the bridge proceedings. Currently, there was little actually going on. They were exploring a nebula, which meant a ton of work for the scientists and nothing much to do for people like him.

His shift ended and he turned his station over to his replacement. Taking the lift down to the engine level, he walked briskly to the engine room. It was where Trip would be. Either here or in his quarters. Since Tucker's shift hadn't run parallel with his, Malcolm's bets were on the warp drive chamber. And he was proven correct.

Trip stood in front of his 'baby', controlling read-outs and frowning at what he saw. Then he corrected this or that, and walked over to the next station.

"Commander Tucker?"

The blond turned and Malcolm was reminded of Dr. Phlox's words.

'Commander Tucker seems to be mirroring your symptoms.'

Trip looked pale, with circles under his eyes as if he hadn't slept a lot lately, and there was a lifeless expression in his normally so vibrant, blue eyes. His hair was neat as always, the uniform was clean and without wrinkles that spoke of actually sleeping in it, but still he looked disheveled and on the verge of a collapse.

"Malcolm? I…uh…what can I do for you?"

Reed pulled himself together, his fašade never slipping. He was here as Lieutenant Reed, not as Malcolm. "I'd like to talk to you, Commander."

"Sure, go ahead."

"In private."

There was a twitch in those waxen features, but it was momentary and quickly gone again. "I'm off duty at 0700," Tucker replied, his voice sounding automatic, almost as lifeless as his eyes looked. "Say 0800? My quarters?"

Malcolm found himself nodding. "0800," he repeated. "Very well, sir." With that he turned and left, aware of the engineer's eyes following him. Trip shook his head in utter frustration, looking after the departing figure of Malcolm Reed, officer and gentleman. He had felt his body tense involuntarily at the formal tone of address just now. On the other hand, they were on duty. Nevertheless, Trip felt his heart sink even deeper. When it came to his armory officer it could mean almost everything. But Trip had an idea what it really meant.

Bad news.

***

It was 0800, sharp, when the door chime announced his visitor. Trip felt his stomach knot in even more places and he wondered how he even managed to say 'come' without making it sound like a squeak.

The door swished open to reveal Malcolm Reed, to his surprise dressed in casual clothes. Black, casual clothes. Clothes, that did nothing to hide the slender, muscular form Trip had seen in all its splendor naked before. He swallowed hard and felt his mouth go completely dry almost immediately again.

"Commander."

Ah shit. Not the commander approach again! There went all his hopes.

"Lieutenant. As far as I'm concerned we're off duty."

"Yes, sir."

"That means you can drop the 'sir', too, Malcolm."

"As you wish—Mr. Tucker."

Trip groaned inwardly. Add stubbornness to the list. Well, two could play. "All right. You wanted a word in private, we are in private. What can I do for you, Mr. Reed?"

"You asked me something. I came to deliver my answer."

Trip's eyes involuntarily raked over the desirable form. "I see no weapons," he joked weakly. "So I guess I'm goin' to survive this?"

The armory officer met his gaze levelly. "Depends."

"On what?"

And suddenly it was there. The mischievous sparkle he loved, the smile that promised so much. It was the expression Malcolm had worn in the bar back on Jupiter station. It was the smile that had made Trip fall so fast and so hard, that had gone through him like a hot knife through butter. Those incredible eyes gave him the impression of looking into the sky during a thunderstorm, including the lightning. He had seen this look once before—and it had drawn him to the other man like a moth to a flame.

"Interested?"

The voice had dipped deeper, the accent was clearer now, the expression fiery and ferocious in one. Trip suddenly had trouble breathing and the last coherent thought he had before he was consumed by that fire was that this wasn't unlike their first encounter in the bar.

Malcolm was suddenly in front of him, grabbing his shirt front, pulling him close. Their lips met, but it was unlike the kiss shared on Jupiter station. It was a hard, deep, almost desperate kiss. It sealed them together, their tongues meeting and running against each other. Trying to dominate and succumbing in one, wanting the other and trying to relay the own need.

Trip felt Malcolm push him back until he collided with his desk. A hand swiped the contents off and Tucker didn't care what spread over the floor. He sat back onto the sturdy table top with an arm full of Reed, who was currently very intent on performing a tonsillectomy. Both men were gasping when they finally separated and Trip couldn't tear his gaze away from the burning gray-blue eyes. What he saw went beyond his wildest dreams.

"Mal?" he asked, voice barely above a croak.

"Shut up," the smaller man whispered, then kissed him again.

Trip groaned as the slender hands dug into his hips and he held his lover close, as his mouth was explored again. He didn't know how long they just devoured each other, but it left him heady and breathless, his whole body tingling.

A part of his severely fried brain finally jumpstarted. It fought the overwhelming effect Malcolm Reed had on him, the way the smaller man was driving him into a frenzy of need and desire. Oh no, not again. Not this time.

He pushed Malcolm away a little, looking into his eyes, questioning, probing. "Last time you did this it was—not for real…"

Reed's very serious eyes met his. "You said I could say 'no', no repercussions or consequences."

"Errrr, Mal, I might be wrong here, but this doesn't exactly look like a 'no' to me?"

"You didn't say anything about consequences should I decide to say yes, Trip." Malcolm chuckled.

"If you…" Trip arranged his deep fried brain cells in a new order, barely registering the use of his name.

"Do you mean it, Trip?"

"Hell yes!" he exclaimed. "So you…you want this? Me? Us? You're giving it a chance?"

Strong fingers caressed his cheek and Trip leaned into the touch. "Yes, commander, I do."

Trip winced at the title, the rank, and Malcolm smiled, bestowing a gentle kiss on his lips.

"Yes, Trip," he corrected himself.

"You're not doin' this because you feel pressured into it?" Trip prodded.

"No pressure. I want this."

The blond pulled him closer again, between his legs, hooking his feet behind the slender man's knees. "Then stop usin' my rank, okay?" he whispered a plea. "Not in here. Never in here."

Fingers caressed him again. "Only on duty," Reed promised.

"Official stuff," Trip corrected. "We are friends outside these private quarters, too, Mal."

The smile on the thin lips warmed him. "Okay," Malcolm all but purred.

The next kiss was more gentle, less desperate, and Trip melted into it, losing himself in the tender expression of love.

"How about we relocate this to somewhere more…comfortable?" he murmured against the ravaged mouth. "This is kinda…hard…"

Malcolm chuckled. "You're getting old, hm?"

He shot his lover an indignant look. "I'll show you old!"

They fell onto the mattress, laughing, and Trip rolled around so that Malcolm was on top. He felt something inside him thaw, something that had been cold and frozen for a long time now, with every warm look, every chuckle, every smile he received from his new lover. Lover, he mused. Sounded—appropriate.

"I love you," he said, eyes serious.

"I know," the armory officer replied, tracing one cheek with his fingers. "I'm sorry."

"Whatever for?"

"Everything. Misinterpreting everything…Making this so hard."

Trip caught the wandering hand and squeezed it. "Hell, it was my mistake, Mal. I didn't realize what I was actually doin'. I want you to know that I'd never hurt you intentionally."

The gray eyes softened even more and that infuriating mouth nibbled along his jaw and down one side of the neck. Trip moaned softly. Damn, the man had a talent…one Tucker appreciated very much. Malcolm leaned over him again, hands messing up his hair.

"Hey!" Trip protested half-heartedly.

"Looks much better," the other man murmured, kissing his nose.

"Oh really?"

"Oh really."

Suddenly Trip looked at the hand that had just gone through his hair and his eyes narrowed. "What the…? Mal, what happened?"

Reed looked at his bruised and split knuckles. "I had an altercation…"

"Geez, I don't wanna know what the other guy looks like."

A small grin. "It was the sandbag in the gym."

That was the moment a yawn threatened and Trip cursed his treacherous body.

"You're tired," Reed stated, concern marring the handsome features.

"Not that tired," Trip lied.

"When was the last time you slept?"

"Mal, it's not important…"

A finger on his lips silenced him. "It is to me, Trip." Reed slid off him and Tucker groaned with the loss of the warm weight.

"Malcolm…"

The other man slipped out of his shoes and then pulled the black sweater off, revealing a skintight, black t-shirt underneath. Trip felt his breath catch in his throat. He started to throw off his own shoes and socks, then wanted to add his shirt, but Malcolm stopped him before he was completely undressed.

"What…?"

"Shhh…not tonight," was the softly voiced answer and the lieutenant crawled onto the bed, pushing the blanket away.

"But…"

"I remember a certain chief engineer telling me in no uncertain terms that he gets real cranky if he doesn't get enough sleep. And I don't want to have a cranky lover."

Malcolm pulled him down with gentle force and Trip found himself complying. Strong arms came around him, pillowing his head against one shoulder. Warm skin, Malcolm's scent, the soft breath against his hair, it all made him relax even further. The blanket was pulled over them.

"Sleep. We'll talk about everything else tomorrow," Malcolm murmured, kissing his head.

Trip wrapped an arm around the slender waist and snuggled closer, feeling incredibly content all of a sudden. Safe and content.

"Love you," he whispered.

The embrace tightened briefly and Reed nuzzled his hair. Trip wondered sleepily why Malcolm never voiced his emotions. He knew the man loved him, but what kept him from saying it?

***

He woke alone.

Trip returned to the land of the conscious and rolled around to one side, arm flung out—only to encounter…nothing. The spot at his side was empty. He opened his eyes and something inside of him clenched painfully at the sight. Malcolm was gone. Drawing a deep breath, he tried to calm himself. According to his clock, it was still quite early in the morning. He had fallen asleep a lot earlier than usual and had slept more than normal lately, but it was still only six a.m., and his next shift was after lunch. As far as he remembered the duty roster, so was Reed's.

So Malcolm had simply left. Shit. But why? He had thought they had resolved their little problem.

Little. Hah!

Trip sat up and ran a hand through his tousled hair. He didn't believe that Reed had play-acted again last night. There was no way he had returned to Trip out of some false idea of blackmail.

Nothing had happened between them last night anyway. Just laying together, sleeping, holding the other, exchanging kisses. Of course, Tucker had felt his mind wander as to what he wanted to do, what they might just do this morning. And now his brain reminded him of the last time they had been in bed, how he had hurt his lover. He couldn't blame Malcolm for running.

"Good morning, Trip."

The voice snapped him out of his morose thoughts and Trip's eyes widened as he discovered Malcolm stepping out of the bathroom. A towel was slung low around the slender hips and the hair looked still damp from the shower he had apparently taken.

"Mal?" he managed.

A frown crossed the handsome face. "You okay?"

"I thought…" Tucker inhaled deeply and shook his head. "Nothin'."

The armory officer walked over to him and bent down for a soft kiss. "You thought I had left," he finished the sentence.

Trip gazed into the gray eyes. "Yeah," was all he managed.

"And why would I do that?"

A shrug. "After last time, I can't blame ya…"

Malcolm shook his head in faint exasperation and kissed him again. Deeper this time, and Trip's hands came up to rest on the towel-clad hips. He ran his fingers across the material, up the thighs to the hips, down the curve of the buttocks, and he felt his lover react. He wanted this man, but the voice of warning was still strong. Last time he had hurt him. Badly. He knew the memories were still there and he doubted Malcolm could simply ignore them.

Trip let himself sink back, pulling his lover with him. Reed followed willingly, all the time assaulting the blond engineer with kisses and caresses. Malcolm's fingers worked under his shirt and played over his skin, finding the right spots to tease. The towel was suddenly gone and having the man naked on top of him had Tucker moan in appreciation. Reed started to tug at his clothes, undressing his lover quickly. And suddenly Malcolm had the lube in one hand, meeting his eyes, offering. Trip took it from the strong fingers, kissing along the inside of Malcolm's wrist and lower arm, drawing a soft shiver from him. He twisted off the cap from the tube and then held it out to Reed again.

Confusion spread over the sharp-angled face. "Trip?"

"Not this time," Trip whispered. "The other way was hot, too. I want you, Mal." Reed swallowed convulsively.

"Trip…you won't hurt me."

"Love me," Tucker just murmured.

Malcolm bent down and kissed the engineer, devouring him, until Tucker thought he would die from air starvation.

"I already do," Reed whispered against the ravaged lips.

"Show me."

The mischievous smile was back, eyes dancing. "As you wish, sir."

Trip had no time to protest the form of address. Malcolm's hand had dipped lower, caressing his hardness, sliding into the cleft, and things heated up quite quickly.

Trip lay in bed, breathing hard, hearing his heart drum in his ears. Tremors raced through him from the intense climax he had just experienced. Gentle strokes over his sweat-slicked skin made him shiver and a kiss was placed onto his heaving chest. He turned his head and looked into the dazed gray eyes of his lover.

"Whoa," he whispered.

Malcolm leaned over him, gently kissing him, tongues meeting almost shyly. "I concur," he murmured.

His hands never stopped their light massage of the slowly relaxing muscles. Trip inhaled sharply as those fingers skipped over the most sensitive area and Malcolm smiled, kissing him again, withdrawing his hand.

"Thank you," he murmured.

Trip blinked, then cupped on cheek, smiling as the other man leaned into the touch. "We have time, Mal. Lots of time. No rush."

"You know that I want you."

"Yes. Next time."

Reed looked at him, eyes warm. "Next time," he promised.

The snuggled together, legs entangled, Trip's head resting against his lover's chest. Reed was playing with his hair, combing his fingers through the short strands.

"Mal?" he said after some time.

"Hm?"

"I…I want to apologize for what I said to you. On that shuttlepod."

The fingers stilled. Trip drew a deep breath.

"I was way out of line. The way I behaved was…unbecomin' of a superior officer. I wasn't in control of my emotions, so I said and did things I really regret now. I mean, here we were…I was…I had just lost everythin'. Enterprise, my friends, the captain…my best friend. An' you were so…pragmatic, so distant and negative, so…so damn realistic about everythin'. You din't show any signs of mournin', for cryin' out loud!"

"I did mourn," Malcolm whispered.

Trip nodded against the chest, caressing one side of his lover, losing himself in the simple motions.

"All I wanted to do back then was hold onto the only thing I hadn't lost, but I was too cowardly to do it. I wanted to give you comfort, receive comfort in turn. But you gave me no openin'. You just talked about death and dyin' and the limited time we had. It drove me up the walls, Mal. I was drawn between wantin' to strangle you and needin' to hold you."

"I'm glad you didn't," Reed murmured, one hand coming to rest on the flat stomach of his lover.

"Why?"

"Because if you had touched me back then, if you had given in to your need, I would have lost it, Trip. Because you didn't give in to your emotions, we survived, Trip."

"Huh?"

"We would have given up," Malcolm explained calmly. "We would have sought comfort in each other and accepted our fate. As it was, you were pretty much trying to repair whatever you could, trying to prove to me that we had a chance. Because of those repairs we later heard Enterprise's calls."

Silence stretched between them as Trip mulled it over. "Yeah," he finally murmured. "Still left me with a bad taste. I never wanted to fling all that garbage at you. I had no right. I should've been the model, the superior officer. I wasn't."

"You were Trip Tucker," Malcolm told him, a smile audible in his voice.

A chuckle. Trip fell silent again, wondering how to breach the next topic without inflicting too much pain again. He unconsciously tensed and the hand on his stomach stroked soothingly.

"Something else bothering you?"

It was only half a question.

"Kinda." He bit his lower lip. "Did you really believe me to be such a bastard as to use what you told me in private against ya? That I'd actually blackmail you with it? Use it to get you into my bed?"

Malcolm was silent for a while. "Past experience."

Trip stared at him, dumbstruck, paling considerably.

"No, no, Trip, it wasn't me," Reed added quickly. "It was a friend of mine."

"What happened?"

Malcolm sighed softly. "It's been a long time. My friend…he fell in love with his superior officer and made the mistake of revealing that love—confessing it. The superior misused that confession. He had him in his hands, blackmailed him. Like you had me in yours. When we met in that bar…I didn't think about who you might be. I never wasted a thought about who I was taking to bed. There were thousands of people on that station. The chances that it would be someone from the same ship were minimal."

He hesitated and Trip waited patiently, silently. At least now he had an answer to his question as to why Malcolm had never responded to his declaration of love. Part of him still feared consequences.

"When I saw you again, I was shocked. I mean, you were not only the person I had slept with just mere hours before, you were also my superior officer. Trip…in the military, that means blackmail material like nothing else. We might be an emancipated society where homosexuality is no longer a critical topic, but it could destroy a man's career if used correctly."

Tucker pushed himself up from his very comfortable resting place and looked into his lover's gray eyes. "I'd never use something like that against anyone," he told him. "Never. What happens behind closed doors in private, or on shore leave, or off duty, stays between me and that person."

"I know that now. Back then, I only knew you from a few rather…," Malcolm smiled, "hot hours."

"But you got to know me in the last months. Still…you thought I'd actually…well, take you by force?"

Reed looked away. "I thought I had you figured out, but then…when you approached me…I think I misinterpreted a lot of things," he murmured.

Tucker ran his hands through the wavy, brown hair. "Yeah, like me. Damn, we're real idiots for two of Starfleet's finest, hm?"

Malcolm chuckled weakly. "Indeed."

Trip kissed his forehead, then his nose, then placed a soft kiss on his lips. "Thank god we got it all cleared up. I wouldn't want to think that you'd have play-acted for me again and again…thinkin' I was just usin' you. 'Cause I love ya, Malcolm Reed."

Malcolm wrapped his arms around the muscular back and initiated another kiss, this one going deeper, their tongues leisurely exploring each other. When they separated, Trip settled back down and Malcolm wrapped his arms around him. It was how they fell asleep, entangled with each other.

***

Jonathan Archer had watched his chief engineer like a hawk lately and he had seen the sudden changes. From depressed to careful hope to the emergence of Trip Tucker. Yes, his friend was back. The roguish grins, the sparkle in his eyes, the easy step, the general air of ease. The same was true for Malcolm. The armory officer had been more withdrawn than ever, but suddenly that had disappeared, like wiped away. The smile in his eyes was back, even if the British officer was on the surface of his outward appearance. While on duty, Lieutenant Reed rarely showed more than he had to, and he interacted with Tucker on a professional level. But off duty was another matter now.

So they had finally made up and found each other, Archer mused. Good for them. He might not yet be completely used to and at ease with his best friend's declaration that he was bisexual, but Trip was still Trip. He had gone through a lot to hold on to Reed, and watching them, Jon knew it was worth it.

"Cap'n."

Trip plopped in the chair opposite his commanding officer and played with the large mug of coffee.

"Trip," Archer acknowledged him.

"How's T'Pol?"

"According to Dr. Phlox, she's getting better. She is stable and should be released from sickbay tomorrow."

"Good to hear. Sorry to see some of them Vulcans go. They were an interestin' bunch." Tucker carefully sipped at the coffee.

"Interesting, but also dangerous," Archer told him with a faint smile.

"Yeah, well…you know how to pick 'em."

The captain chuckled. He watched his friend for a while.

"Seems like you and Malcolm settled things."

The smile reached Trip's eyes and the boyish look was back; full force. "Yep. Got all misunderstandings cleared. You okay with us?"

"You know my take on things. And so far, I haven't seen the two of you making out on duty."

Trip laughed out loud. "And you won't. Malcolm's makin' sure of that, believe me."

Archer grinned slightly. Oh yes, he could believe that. If he didn't know better, he wouldn't even begin to suspect that there was something between his two officers. At least nothing more than just a good friendship that had developed out of the near-death experience they had had together.

"S'not like I wouldn't wanna kiss him senseless," Trip added with a smirk and an impish expression in his eyes.

The captain chuckled and Tucker hid his widening smile behind his mug.

"He's good for me, Jon," Trip said softly when he lowered the mug once more, looking much more serious now. "Means a lot to me."

"I saw that, Trip. Just make sure you don't screw up again."

"I won't."

The engineer left half an hour later and Archer thoughtfully studied the stars streaking by outside. Yes, Malcolm was good for Trip. The changes were already there. Well, Jon decided, he would just sit back and watch the relationship develop. He was sure he would be in for some surprises.

***

Malcolm sighed and rotated his slightly stiff shoulders. The last few days had been so filled with work, he and Trip had barely seen each other. And when they did, neither of them had been in shape for more than a bit of fooling around and finally falling asleep in each other's arms. It didn't help that whenever he saw his lover, Malcolm wanted to pounce him. The trained officer inside him kept a tight rein on those inappropriate feelings, but the need still remained. He was just glad that the Vulcan ship had left, that there was a sense of normality returning, and that maybe, just maybe, he and Trip could have some time on their own.

He had just finished a brief shower, which helped loosen some of his muscles, and had redressed in his civvies, when the door bell rang.

"Come," he called and a delighted smile spread over his features when he discovered that it was Trip.

Dressed in simple pants and a sweater, the blond engineer looked just as devastatingly handsome as he did in the uniform. A uniform that left little to the imagination in Malcolm's eyes. But who was he to complain?

"Hey, Mal," Trip greeted him, a wide smile on his features.

"Hey yourself."

Tucker planted a little kiss on his lips, but Malcolm wouldn't let him off that cheap. He grabbed the back of his lover's neck and held him in place as he let his tongue flick against the opening lips. They kissed deeply, slowly, savoring each other's warmth.

"And here I was wondering if you were in the mood for somethin' to eat," the engineer breathed when they separated.

Reed's eyes twinkled. "Always." He stepped back slightly. "You're off?" "Yep. Next eight hours are ours."

Food did sound like an idea, Malcolm confessed and turned to look for his shoes. A wet, sloppy kiss was planted on his neck, then teeth nibbled gently at the highly sensitive skin, and he arched back against the hot mouth, barely able to suppress a groan. Goosebumps erupted over his skin. Trip let his hands roam freely over Malcolm's chest, pushing up the t-shirt that was in the way, hungrily skipping his fingers over the warm skin. Reed bit his lower lip as those fingers tweaked a nipple and his knees almost buckled when the wet lips suckled at the juncture of his neck and shoulder. Somehow his pants were opened and Trip was suddenly in front of him, pushing the willing man against the wall and sinking down in front of him.

"Trip…," he groaned as a talented mouth slanted over his hardness and he almost screamed as Tucker's fingers joined in.

The sensual attack drove him into overload. All he could do was feel and react. His body tingled with the electricity each nip, lick and suck evoked, and he tangled his hands in his lover's dark blond hair. A whimper escaped his lips. When he came, it was like a tidal wave. He gave a soundless cry, head thrown back against the wall, and only Trip's hands on his hips steadied him at all. He sank into the waiting arms, feeling the commander kiss his neck, face and finally his lips, and Malcolm waited for the dizziness in his head to dissipate.

"Good lord," he groaned when he was finally able to catch his breath again.

Trip grinned boyishly. "Missed ya."

"I wouldn't have been able to tell," Malcolm murmured, quite aware of his undressed state compared to Tucker's still very much clothed one.

"That damn Vulcan propulsion system kept me busy like nothin' else," Trip went on, nibbling at his earlobe.

"Hmm-mmh," Malcolm grunted and started to return the affections. "You're very overdressed," he murmured.

"Oh, really?"

Reed tucked at the shirt. "Definitely."

Trip was only too happy to help him and they two men made it over to the bed, entangled, kissing and nipping at each other, breathless. Malcolm wrestled his lover onto the mattress and settled over the strong thighs, smiling down at the flushed face. He began a slow exploration of the muscular chest, delighting in the soft noises of pleasure and encouragement. Trip's hips twitched as his hands ghosted over the sensitive fold of skin between leg and abdominal area, and Malcolm licked over this patch. Tucker moaned his name, hands clenching into the blanket. Reed ignored the hardness straining toward him and instead concentrated on massaging the tense thighs and tracing the play of muscles under the skin of Trip's stomach.

"Mal, please…" the blond gasped.

He crawled up the length of the desirable body and wedged a knee between his lover's legs, who spread them willingly.

"Trip, I want you…inside me…" he whispered huskily.

"Mal…Are you…are you sure?"

"Yes."

Tucker cupped the back of his neck, pulling him down into a deep kiss. Malcolm melted into it, rubbing himself against his lover, drawing a gasp.

Trip prepared him thoroughly and Reed pushed back against the invading fingers, impatient and trying to tell Trip that he was fine. He wasn't a bloody virgin! Last time he hadn't been relaxed; last time, there had been no love.

"Lord, Trip, please…!" he exclaimed as the long fingers brushed over that special spot.

His cry was silenced by demanding lips and his next outburst was swallowed in the hot mouth. His lover took his time, loosening the tight ring of muscles, teasing him.

"Ready?" the Southern voice whispered roughly.

"More than ready," he managed.

Trip applied more lube to himself and Reed spread his legs wider. One of his lover's hand started to massage his thigh as his opening was breached and he groaned in pleasure. Tucker stopped when he was completely sheathed and Malcolm breathed deeply, reveling in the feeling. This was how it had been the first time they had been together. Trip kissed his neck and shoulders.

"Okay?" he murmured.

"Move," was all Malcolm managed.

And he did. Slow, sweet, deep. Their hands twined together and Trip pushed them down left and right of Malcolm's head. He bent down further, lips against one ear.

"You're so hot, Mal. So incredibly hot. I love you."

Each sentence was punctuated with a thrust and Reed arched his hips into them. When Trip finally climaxed, Malcolm joined him, their cries mingling. Tucker managed not to fall onto him, but before he could roll away, Malcolm wrapped his arms around the slender body, holding him close. He ran shaky fingers through the sweaty hair and kissed him.

Trip was breathing hard, chest heaving, but his eyes were meeting Malcolm's and he smiled. Reed returned the smile.

They lay together for a while, cocooned in the blanket of the bed, stroking over each other's bodies. Trip nuzzled the neck and ear closest to his mouth and snuggled closer, one leg resting over Malcolm's. It effectively trapped the smaller man, but Reed didn't mind. Not the least. He finger-combed his lover's hair until he heard the regular breaths of sleep.

He slipped off to sleep not much later, warm and content.

***

It shouldn't have happened like this. It should have been an easy salvage mission or an even easier case of helping some stranded aliens to get their ship flying again. Instead they had been lied to, attacked, held against their will, and in the end, Malcolm Reed had been shot in the back by a hologram. Three months into their relationship and Trip had nearly had a coronary when he had first seen Captain Archer help their armory officer sit down on a small crate, had watched Malcolm hunch over slightly and cradle his right arm. It had taken all of his willpower not to go over to his lover and be with him. Trip had just looked at him, briefly, reassuring himself that the man was alive, but the pain in those gray eyes had stabbed him, too.

Getting Malcolm back had taken a while, since Archer had had a long talk with the Kentari, they had been reunited with T'Pol, and finally they had left again. Aboard the shuttlepod, Trip had kept his professional distance as well. But the tight rein on his emotions had severely frayed throughout the prolonged examination in sick bay.

Trip watched his lover as Malcolm slowly and very carefully sank down onto his bed. Reed couldn't hide the grimace of pain from each wrong move and Trip winced in sympathy. Getting shot by a phaser was damn painful and left deep bruises in the best cases, muscle strains and ruptures in the worst. In Malcolm's case, it had left him with ruptures that Phlox had started to treat, but his body had to heal all on its own. When one of the holograms had tackled the injured armory officer, he had ended up bruising his right shoulder as well. "Feels good to be back in my own quarters," Malcom sighed and briefly closed his eyes.

"I can believe that. No idea who designed those beds in sickbay, but they weren't meant for sleepin'."

Malcolm chuckled and looked at him. "So, we parted ways with the Kentari, I heard."

"Yeah. They said they'll make it on their own, rebuild everything and all. Guess Leanna will be back among her own people in a year or two." Trip stepped forward as Malcolm tried to undress. "Lemme help," he offered and quickly undid the shoes and pulled off the socks.

"She seemed like a nice girl," Reed remarked casually as the engineer pushed the footwear aside.

Trip shrugged. "Yeah. Bit shy, very curious, real good engineer material." He grinned.

"The two of you got along pretty well."

Tucker frowned. "Now what's that supposed to mean?"

Malcolm met his gaze levelly. "Exactly what it means."

"Now c'mon! As I told the cap'n, I was the perfect gentlemen!" Trip almost whined. "I'm not and never was interested in her! She was nice, granted, but she's a child. I was her first real life contact in over twenty years, Mal. She was curious about me, about Enterprise, about Earth. She wanted to know about the worlds she's never seen."

"So you showed her."

"So I *talked* to her. Big difference. We talked, I showed her stuff…" Trip stared hard at his lover. "You sound like yer…jealous? Geez, Mal! I wasn't interested!"

The blond hunkered down in front of his still seated lover and rested his hands on the tense knees. He started a gentle, non-erotic massage of the thighs.

"She was cute, granted, but not my type. Okay, so I gave her a good-bye kiss, but…"

Malcolm's eyebrows dipped and his face took on an expression Trip knew only too well. It was a critical mask, one that Lieutenant Reed wore whenever he wasn't happy but wouldn't say something because a superior officer had issued the order.

"Mal, please, listen. I gave her a little kiss of good-bye. Nothin' more, nothin' less. I'm a one man kinda guy. I love you, no one else."

He rubbed the tense legs and leaned closer, hands now on Malcolm's hips.

"I love you," he repeated softly, intently. "Won't risk this for anythin'. I fought too damn hard for it, to get it into your goddamn, British thick head."

Reed cupped his face with his hands and ran his thumbs over the cheeks. "You like to flirt," he stated.

"Hell, yes. Preferably with you, lover," Trip replied smiling.

"Leanna wasn't me."

"You're not lettin' this go, are ya?" Tucker sighed. Malcolm smiled slightly and pulled carefully at Trip's head. The engineer rose willingly, meeting the kiss halfway.

"No, I won't let you go," Malcolm murmured.

"Good. 'Cause I'm not intendin' to leave."

The armory officer winced when Trip shifted his weight a little and a soft hiss escaped his lips. Tucker murmured an apology and leaned off him again.

"I'm fine," Malcolm reassured him.

"Like hell. Those bruises speak another language."

"They'll heal."

Trip brushed his lips over Reed's again. "Yeah, and for that to happen you need rest. Doctor's orders."

"Will you stay?"

"Next shift's tomorrow. Of course I'll stay."

Undressing Malcolm was as painful for Trip as it was for his lover. While he normally enjoyed slowly getting the clothes off the handsome body, right now he tried to be as gentle and quick about is as possible. Trip winced as he discovered the huge bruise over the right shoulder and the still ugly, deep red and purple mark between his shoulder blades.

"Damn, they got you good," he murmured.

"Half as bad as it looks," Malcolm reassured him.

"Looks damn ugly. And since you gettin' shot in the leg qualifies as 'I'm alright' in your dictionary, I know how to take your reassurances in that matter." Trip gave him a stern look. "I nearly ran a ditch into my quarter's floor plating when you caught that bullet on Terra Nova. Damn, I was ready to go up the walls because I couldn't visit you in sickbay, stay there…be with you."

"Make it up to me now. Be with me."

"You can betcha ass on it, lover. So, did the doc give you anythin' for the pain?"

Reed nodded and indicated a small vial with pills. Tucker opened the cap and looked questioningly at him.

"Two," Malcolm answered.

Getting him some water, Trip watched his lover swallow the painkillers.

"Guess sleepin' on the stomach would be the best bet, hm?"

"Probably."

The armory officer sighed in relief as he lay down on the mattress, his back exposed. Trip tried not to stare at the glaring red bruises.

"Okay?"

"Very. Are you planning on joining me?"

The blond shook his head. "Nope. You don't need me bumpin' into you by accident tonight. Guess it's painful enough already."

Malcolm relaxed more into the mattress, the painkillers apparently taking effect. "Oh."

"But I'll stay. Just sleep, Mal. Get better."

"Hm-mh."

Eyelids drooped and then shut and not much later, Reed was asleep.

Trip watched him fondly, then got up and got himself the spare blanket. He sat down on the chair again, kicked his feet up on the bed, and tried to get as comfortable as was possible—which wasn't much. He knew he'd have back problems tomorrow, but he wouldn't leave his lover alone. Not this time.

Not ever.

*

He was awake from one moment to the next. Not battle-ready awake. More like a drowsy awareness that he wasn't sleeping any longer. Malcolm blinked his eyes open and bit his lower lip as his first movement evoked a brief, cramping pain in his back. Damn phaser shot! Moving carefully, he turned and froze as he discovered his overnight guest.

Trip sat in a chair, feet up on the bunk, a blanket covering him. His head had fallen to his shoulder and he looked very uncomfortable, and damn, that had to hurt, Malcolm thought. He was surprised to find his lover still in his quarters. He had thought the man had gone back to his own.

Another wrong move had him hiss out his pain and Trip suddenly jerked awake, only to curse as his own muscles announced their cramps. By the time the blond engineer was done extracting himself from the chair, Malcolm was sitting up, trying to find a position that was least agonizing. Sadly enough, there was none.

"Mornin'," Trip drawled.

"Good morning."

"Slept well?"

"Better than you, I suppose. Trip, why didn't you sleep in bed?"

Tucker smothered a yawn and wrapped the blanket around his shoulders. "'Cause if I had jolted you, you'd have been in more pain than you already were, Mal. Told ya so last night."

"I meant your bed, lover. You have a perfectly good bunk in your own quarters."

Trip frowned. "I said I'd be with you."

Malcolm shook his head in fond amusement. Leave it to Trip to spend the night in a chair that left his spine in shape of a pretzel, just to be with him.

"Sometimes I wonder about your level of sanity."

"I love you, too," he chuckled. "Need painkillers?" Trip asked when Malcolm winced again.

"A hot shower would be preferable first. And some breakfast. Pain medication on an empty stomach makes me woozy."

"Need help?"

"That would be appreciated."

Together they made it into the bathroom and Malcolm took a forcefully extended shower, since he couldn't move as fluidly as he was used to. Trip assisted as best as he could, staying to be there in case Malcolm slipped, and then helped him to towel off.

"Y'know, any other time Ah'd ravage you on sight," the blond murmured as he pulled down the shirt over Malcolm's head. "Ah'm not used to dressin' ya. Usually we tear the clothes off."

Reed gave him a little kiss. "But I thank you all the same."

"Breakfast?"

"If I can make it into the mess hall without having to crawl," was the dry reply.

Trip chuckled. "I could always carry you."

Malcolm shot him a dark look. "You wouldn't dare!"

"Try me."

Both men left the quarters, a friendly banter between them. Trip reveled in the presence of this very relaxed version of his lover, off duty, at ease. He planned to have him like that as long as possible. Probably until Dr. Phlox declared him fit for duty again, until Malcolm was in uniform once more. And even then, Tucker mused, he knew what was beneath that sometimes so distant surface, what else lay under the occasional grin of teasing remark. He knew the truth.

It made him proud like nothing else.


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